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 Post subject: Visiting Japan
PostPosted: October 31st, 2007, 4:33 pm 
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So, Me and my wife are planning a trip to Japan on early 2009 (yeah, lot of savings and planning required since we are not rich =p), and I thought I should ask people who have visited Japan for usefull hints.

We would rather go by ourselves in contrast as with an excursion, but for a first visit, we figured it's less troublesome if we get into an excursion.

The excursion is 14 days long and visits about 9 cities using train and bus. We will have half a day free in Osaka and a whole day free (last day) in Tokyo

But what about going "alone", is it that more complicate? I guess that reaching japan and getting to your hotel is easy, but it introduces some issues: how to choose a good Hotel, transportation issues, where to eat, what to visit. When you are on your own you are free, but also, left with no compass =p

So anyone who visited Japan, in or outside an excursion party, please share your experiences and hits ;)

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PostPosted: October 31st, 2007, 6:47 pm 
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I haven't been yet, but I'll be going next summer with my family for about two weeks before we go to China for our bi-annual visit. I've never had good experiences travelling with a group. I've been on my fair share of trips, including trips outside the country, and I dunno, it's always more interesting to go with just a few people, whether its friends or family rather than travel with a large group. The only thing is that you need to do plenty of research before hand and plan things out pretty well. Otherwise, it can end up being pretty chaotic (i.e. like my last trip to China in 2005)

A couple of my friends went to Japan two years ago and it was just the two of them . . . :lol:, when they came back they said it wasn't that much of a hassle at all.

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PostPosted: November 1st, 2007, 12:05 pm 
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I can't tell you much about the cities since I lived in the countryside.
"A good hotel" in your case might be one with English (or Portuguese) information on their website...
If your Japanese is bad or non-existent I'd say stick with the excursion (assuming there's a guide or something). English doesn't get you too far, according to my experience only prestigious places like big hotels and museums have employees who speak the language, else there are only enthusiastic individuals, because common Japanese are used to false-English advertising and horrible Japlish pronunciation and won't understand a word of proper English (despite years of formal lessons).
Youth hostels, too, often feature such foreign language enthusiasts.

Transportation issues are relatively easy, since at least the bigger stations in the cities have English travel information. The placenames are written in latin letters and there's quick access to guidance personnel if you're unfamiliar with the ticket vending machines.

It's easiest to survive in the cities without Japanese language proficiency. The countryside has nicer people, but even less English speakers. It might be an interesting experiment whether the higher degree of hospitality in the countryside will get you further, might be worth a try, but I'd be careful.

If you're going for yourselves, without a guide, have your trip well-planned beforehand. Choose your lodging well before your trip and let the hosts know if your Japanese is not so great, maybe via E-Mail (I can help you with that if necessary), so that maybe they can have a layman-interpreter for emergencies around. That might not work, but it's better than relying on chance.

Where to eat? You will be bludgeoned by all the choice you have. There are so many types of Ramen (noodle soup) that you can easily live off them for a month without ever ordering the same twice, plus there are so many other little restaurants selling the greatest of stuff... you need not be worried about food.
Of course there are famous places to eat. As for Tokyo I'd say go to Odaiba and eat Spaghetti Nero at "Saizeriya" (a so-called "fami-resu" = "family restaurant" chain). And for Ramen, seek out the "Musashi"... "Menya Musashi" in western Shinjuku. But be prepared to stand in line for a few minutes...

Tokyo alone has enough places to visit to keep you busy for two weeks I'd say.
Go to the Tokyo Tower and climb it by the stairs.
Go to Asakusa and see the great Gate.
Go to Harajuku, see the Cosplayers and the Meiji Shrine.
Go to Akihabara just to feel the bustling atmosphere...
Go to Shinjuku and see the city from the 49th floor of the city hall.
Go to Odaiba and enjoy the parks and the ocean view.
Go to Hongo and walk the earth at Tôkyô Daigaku (Tokyo University).
(That's west of Ueno respectively north of Ochanomizu station.)
Plus there are dozens of museums to see, I can't name them all.
That is what I enjoyed most.
Well, minus the Tokyo Tower thing because my friends were not so patient. :roll:

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PostPosted: November 1st, 2007, 1:04 pm 
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spazmaster666 wrote:
Otherwise, it can end up being pretty chaotic (i.e. like my last trip to China in 2005)


yay tell me, we often learn from the chaos and mistakes of others more often than advices xD (if you already posted it just point me the thread =p)

42317 wrote:
"A good hotel" in your case might be one with English (or Portuguese) information on their website...


Yeah, this is one of my MAIN concerns about going myself: how to (A) know how to choose a good hotel and not some shitty one that I will regret for life, and (B) how to make the reservations and make sure everything is ok, not to get there and find out they don't know who I am xD~

I think by the time we go, my Japanese (at least spoken) will be enough to help me out of emergencies. As of know I can pretty much understand about half what I hear. Writting and reading is other thing as you all know.

Your post was interesting, here, some of my main concerns are these:

1. Assure reservations are a-ok so I can rest assured I will have a place to stay xD~

2. Transportation needs. I know most of major transportation is by train but what about smaller distances like going from one district to the other, also by train? If so, do I buy a pass? does the JR passes cover all lines? What about renting bikes or going on foot? what about busses?

3. Crime, dangers ... is it 100% safe to walk around with US$200 on your pocket and cameras at hand all around, if not is it at least obvious where I should not stick my neck into? like a bad neighboorhood? I know crime in Japan is ridiculously low but since I live in a country with ridiculously HIGH crime, it crosses my mind =p Here in Brazil (if you ever come around that is) it would always be a nice idea to ask hotel clerks and shop owners if this or that street is safe and where not to go. More often than not, 50m into a gloomy street is almost requesting to get robbed :cry: yeah not proud of my country at all.

4. Are Japanese money-eager? I mean, seriously, if you land in Brazil and get a cab and just tell the driver "get me to hotel X", sure he will get there ... but there is a, let's say, 75% chance he will give you a neat uncalled for tour around the city just to charge you twice. gee it happens here when I need a cab to go somewhere and even though they know I'm from town they try to get the longer route. It can also happen in US, my sister landed at JFK and got a cab, and her husband knew NY around, the driver started circling some blocks for random, her husband had to knock on the window and tell kim "nice tour, now if you would please get to the hotel" ... embarassing situation =x

5. As you said, planning a trip is important, and the most important aspects are the airliner to get there and out (easiest), transportation in/out of the hotel and between the places you want to visit (kind of easy, but some knowledge might save you some money, for instance, in Japan's travel site they mention that you can visit most of Tokyo's landmarks by feet or rented bycicles, that seams fun!), but there are some stuff it's hard to plan, for instance, suppose I wanted to do everything 42317 mentioned, is a day enough? even if it is, I don't see the point if I can only stay on each location 15 minutes =p (p.s.: climbing TT by the staris, are you insane? LOL)

We also have some things we want to do that might limit our choices: Sakura bloosoms (limits the period of year, I think it can only be enjoyed between march and april, correct me if I'm wrong), we would like to visit Osaka, Kyoto, etc.. Yokohama is also a must, but it's close enough to Tokyo.

yeah 2 weeks might be not enough, but here is the beauty of all: if we go alone, we are not constrained by the pre-estabilished plan for 2 weeks, so we could plan 3 weeks, since the most expensive part is the air tickets, planning to stay a couple more days is not that more expensive.

One thing you mentioned was kind of a relief, that all stations have romanized titles for destinations, that makes things a lot easier =D Also, I think that in a worst case scenario if we happen to get the wrong car, we can get back easily. Some years ago I heard people telling otherwise, that not all stations had romanized destination labels. Yet, I would doubt I would not know at least the kanji for the places I want to go anyway.

Question: how hard you think would be to find a suitable lodging if we went to the countryside? by that I mean .. .arrive without notice. I guess if the hotels are not full, it wouldn't be a problem, the problem is: what if we drop off a town with too few hotels? XD~

Final: how well received is US dolars, traveller checks or credit cards? I also read somewhere that Japanese is not too found of plastic money and I should make a priority to carry most money in yen.

Thanks for your insights ... and now for the obvious question: where are you from? XD~ you seam to be closer to Japan than I am (yeah, I'm so lucky I'm on the EXACT oposite of the planet, if you draw a line from tokyo, passing thru earth's core, and to south america, you would probably hit me XD~ ... 36h air estimates on most air carriers I checked)

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PostPosted: November 1st, 2007, 2:50 pm 
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I cannot answer your questions right now, and I have no full knowledge of the bigger cities since I lived in Hirosaki, way up in the north. Well, still south of Hokkaidô, but still several hours bus ride to Tokyo.
I have forwarded your post in my social network. One of my friends had been living in Tokyo for two years and he was eager to explore the city...

Caiobrz wrote:
now for the obvious question: where are you from?


Need glasses? :lol:
It's written right below my avatar, has always been.
And if you take a look into my profile, my closeness to Japan will be unveiled. :wink:

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PostPosted: November 1st, 2007, 4:33 pm 
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lol never thought of looking at the avatar =p

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: November 10th, 2007, 7:27 am 
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Caiobrz wrote:
Yeah, this is one of my MAIN concerns about going myself: how to (A) know how to choose a good hotel and not some shitty one that I will regret for life, and (B) how to make the reservations and make sure everything is ok, not to get there and find out they don't know who I am xD~
I stayed at the Keio Plaza. great staff, the location is central (5 minute walk to shinjuku station)

Caiobrz wrote:
1. Assure reservations are a-ok so I can rest assured I will have a place to stay xD~
arrange everything through your travel agent. they have great packages. i just got the hotel and airfare.

Caiobrz wrote:
2. Transportation needs. I know most of major transportation is by train but what about smaller distances like going from one district to the other, also by train? If so, do I buy a pass? does the JR passes cover all lines? What about renting bikes or going on foot? what about busses?
the train system is the best in the world and quite cheap (minus the bullet trains). the system can be a pay as you go or day pass, it really depends on what you plan on doing that day. we went by train and foot, i could not imagine doing tokyo on bikes as it is very populated. i noticed bikes out in the suburbs, but not so much where we went. walking and trains works well.

Caiobrz wrote:
3. Crime, dangers ... is it 100% safe to walk around with US$200 on your pocket and cameras at hand all around, if not is it at least obvious where I should not stick my neck into? like a bad neighboorhood? I know crime in Japan is ridiculously low but since I live in a country with ridiculously HIGH crime, it crosses my mind =p Here in Brazil (if you ever come around that is) it would always be a nice idea to ask hotel clerks and shop owners if this or that street is safe and where not to go. More often than not, 50m into a gloomy street is almost requesting to get robbed :cry: yeah not proud of my country at all.
it is very safe. just for fun i forced my friend to walk around one night and apparently later on she told me that one area we went was a dangerous place. i just looked at her and said, "no way!" i bet she would have freaked at the places i went to in detroit and new york... it was a little dingy i guess since normally everywhere is spotless, but that was all. though i am a guy and we do not worry as much.

Caiobrz wrote:
4. Are Japanese money-eager? I mean, seriously, if you land in Brazil and get a cab and just tell the driver "get me to hotel X", sure he will get there ... but there is a, let's say, 75% chance he will give you a neat uncalled for tour around the city just to charge you twice. gee it happens here when I need a cab to go somewhere and even though they know I'm from town they try to get the longer route. It can also happen in US, my sister landed at JFK and got a cab, and her husband knew NY around, the driver started circling some blocks for random, her husband had to knock on the window and tell kim "nice tour, now if you would please get to the hotel" ... embarassing situation =x
do not take a cab! it is bloody expensive, and they were not ripping us off!

Caiobrz wrote:
5. As you said, planning a trip is important, and the most important aspects are the airliner to get there and out (easiest), transportation in/out of the hotel and between the places you want to visit (kind of easy, but some knowledge might save you some money, for instance, in Japan's travel site they mention that you can visit most of Tokyo's landmarks by feet or rented bycicles, that seams fun!), but there are some stuff it's hard to plan, for instance, suppose I wanted to do everything 42317 mentioned, is a day enough? even if it is, I don't see the point if I can only stay on each location 15 minutes =p (p.s.: climbing TT by the staris, are you insane? LOL)
you could do 42317's suggestions in 3-4 days very comfortably. we took it very easy, then again we also had friends who guided us for some of those things. it is very easy to get around, and people are very helpful when you are alone.

Caiobrz wrote:
We also have some things we want to do that might limit our choices: Sakura bloosoms (limits the period of year, I think it can only be enjoyed between march and april, correct me if I'm wrong), we would like to visit Osaka, Kyoto, etc.. Yokohama is also a must, but it's close enough to Tokyo.

yeah 2 weeks might be not enough, but here is the beauty of all: if we go alone, we are not constrained by the pre-estabilished plan for 2 weeks, so we could plan 3 weeks, since the most expensive part is the air tickets, planning to stay a couple more days is not that more expensive.
if you can afford 3 weeks, do it! tokyo is very expensive. hotel and food is where all my money went.

Caiobrz wrote:
One thing you mentioned was kind of a relief, that all stations have romanized titles for destinations, that makes things a lot easier =D Also, I think that in a worst case scenario if we happen to get the wrong car, we can get back easily. Some years ago I heard people telling otherwise, that not all stations had romanized destination labels. Yet, I would doubt I would not know at least the kanji for the places I want to go anyway.
when i was in yokohama i had no idea how much it would cost for me to go back because everything was in kanji. the 3rd person i asked actually understood my pathetic japanese/english... every train i went on would notify you of each approaching station. again, i stayed in the two cities though.

Caiobrz wrote:
Final: how well received is US dolars, traveller checks or credit cards? I also read somewhere that Japanese is not too found of plastic money and I should make a priority to carry most money in yen.
i used my credit card a lot. but i was in tokyo and yokohama...

going back to the question of guided tour or not. it really depends on your personality. if you love meeting locals, not easily embarrassed, and not one for schedules, go on your own. if you like things easy, take the tour! you will learn a lot of history, plus you will meet other travelers who are always great to be with.


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PostPosted: November 13th, 2007, 12:40 am 
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great tips, thanks dbd

I'm probably one for not going in a tour, I like the freedom =p History and museum-information I can get from the internet (and the ones I really like than I can schedule with freedom when to visit), I want to go and experience things, visit places, nado nado ;)

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PostPosted: January 16th, 2008, 7:12 pm 
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I finally got somebody to write a few lines about your travel plans...
It's from my Otôto-senpai who is French, so please bear with his English.

Caiobrz wrote:
1. Assure reservations are a-ok so I can rest assured I will have a place to stay

If you do reserve, don't worry about it.
Just pay attention to the gate closing hour of the hotel or place you will get. Gate crashers are not really welcome.

My comment: I dunno whether this answers your question since I cannot grasp the relation between your statement and his reply...

Caiobrz wrote:
2.Transportation needs. I know most of major transportation is by trainbut whatabout smaller distances like going from one district to the other, also by train? If so, do I buy a pass? does the JR passes cover all lines? What about renting bikes or going on foot? what about busses?


Busses are OK, but in 12 months of Tokyo I only used them like 5 times. They are really necessary when you get to the outskirts of Tokyo (Hachiouji for example) but otherwise your best bet is that there is a train station nearby.
Transportation by bike is pleasurable, but you need to know your way, really. Or at least be able to read the names/ask for directions.
Going on foot is OK for small distances - but with one train station every mile or two, why walk if you have a pass? The JR East Railpass costs a lot of money and allows you to use almost any train, noticeable exceptions being the Shinkansen bullet trains (if you intend to go to Kyoto or Osaka...).
If you can tone down your train activities, it might be even better to purchase tickets separately - it will
probably cost you a lot anyway, though.

Caiobrz wrote:
3. Crime, dangers...

Well, more often than not you are safe. Don't wear fur coats and golden chains obviously, but having the tourist outfit should not get you into trouble. Going out at night with worn out clothes can get you
suspiscous looks if you go to Shibuya, Ginza and Shinjuku.
Ginza is beautiful and secure but it's one of the most expensive places on earth - I'm not even kidding here.
Shibuya and Shinjuku and excellent nightlife attractions, but lots of foreigners try to make a living in the streets there, so you might be mistaken for one of them.
Avoid Shinjuku after 23h and I mean it. It probably is nothing compared to Brazil, but it can get tight.

Caiobrz wrote:
4. AreJapanese money-eager?

Tough question. I never met any, but they certainly exist.
About cabs, if you call for one with you hand opened and fingers extended, it means you're offering 5 times the fare to get home so pay attention. :D
This rule applies foremost during the evening though.

Caiobrz wrote:
5. As you said, planning a trip is important, and the most important aspects are the airliner to get there and out (easiest), transportation in/out of the hotel and between the places you want to visit (kind of easy, but some knowledge might save you some money, for instance, in Japan's travel site they mention that you can visit most of Tokyo's landmarks by feet or rented bycicles, that seems fun!), but there's some stuff it's hard to plan, for instance,suppose I wanted to do everything 42317 mentioned, is a day enough? even if it is, Idon't see the point if I can only stay on each location 15 minutes
(p.s.: climbing TT by the staris, are you insane?


Renting bikes is good but be sure to have set a plan and a time to get back. Always have a small map of where you stay and the name in full kanji in case you get lost. Also, a small pad and pencil to have ppl draw maps for you would be nice.

Caiobrz wrote:
We alsohave some things we want to do that might limit our choices:
Sakura bloosoms (limits the period of year, I think it can only be enjoyed between march and april, correct me if I'm wrong), we would like to visit Osaka, Kyoto, etc.. Yokohama is also a must, but it's close enough to Tokyo.


Define "close" :D
Yokohama is not that far but it's generally associated with luxurious restaurants best enjoyed by night. If you are in Yokohama in the evening, you might not make it in time to your hotel for the night.

Oh, and Sakura blossom is indeed in March and April, and the weather TV spots ALWAYS give the most accurate infos on where to be to watch them - it's ridiculously important in Japan. I would advise to start your trip with the south of Japan, that way you might enjoy the cherry blossoms several times
as you travel north. I would say do Ueno Park at full blossom, but otoh every japanese and non-japanese being in the area will try and do the same...
Just get any park (heck, some universities have only cherry trees so if you enter the side gates...)

My comment: What is "otoh"???

Caiobrz wrote:
One thing you mentioned was kind of a relief, that all stations have romanized titles for destinations, that makes things a lot easier =D Also, I think that in a worst case scenario if we happen to get the wrong car, we can get back easily. Some years ago I heard people telling otherwise, that not all stations had romanized destination labels. Yet, I would doubt I would not know at least thekanji for theplaces I want to go anyway.

I'm not too sure about the actual vending machines though. Back when I lived there (a long, long time ago) only some stations had full romanized maps and vending machines.

Caiobrz wrote:
Question:how hard you think would be to find a suitable lodging if we went to the countryside? by that I mean... arrive without notice. I guess if the hotels are not full, it wouldn't be a problem, the problem is: what if we drop off a town with too few hotels?

If you speak japanese, ppl will be more inclined to help you find something. It makes a world of difference, really.

My comment: According to my experience it already helps if you sincerely try to speak Japanese. Nobody expects you to really know how to speak the language.


Caiobrz wrote:
Final: how well received is US dolars, traveller checks or credit cards? I also read somewhere that Japanese were not too found of plastic money and I should make a priority to carry most money in yen.

I have absolutely no idea on that one, as I only carried Yen on me.
Banks close in the early afternoon (3 PM in most cities) so beware!

I have the nagging feeling I forgot something important, but I can't place it.

Oh yeah: 2008 is the year of Brazil in Japan.
You could not have picked up a better year to go!
Police officers and city clerks might be extra helpful during your stay. Enjoy it!

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PostPosted: January 17th, 2008, 3:44 pm 
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Oh yeah: 2008 is the year of Brazil in Japan.


T_T I'm not going, we decided to postpone a couple of years while saving to buy a home =/ and now I'm depressed =\

Anyway, that was VERY REALLY HELPFULL, most answers are great, and I also would love to know what "otoh" is (get the feeling it's a typo from "both").

Great tip on the hands open when calling a cab XD~ we will probably walk most of the time since we are sightseeing, we don't care if it's "faster" by train ;)

One question though, since it got me worried: Hotels have closing hours? you mean, I can't enter my hotel 3a.m.? that is very weird, specially because I guess most tourists won't to experience the night life and get late to hotel. How does that work, any idea? it's "closed" or just frowned uppon?

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